March 21st, 2016
Certain federal statutes authorize punitive damages for employment discrimination. See, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). Under Ohio law, R.C. § 4112.99 authorizes punitive damages for unlawful employment discrimination. Rice v. Certainteed Corporation (1999), 84 Ohio St.3d 417, 419. In Ohio, punitive damages may also be awarded for certain common law causes of action such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, breach of promise (promissory estoppel), and defamation, but not for breach of contract claims. Crawford v. ITT Consumer Financial Corp., 653 F.Supp. 1184, 1192 (S.D. Ohio 1982). Before punitive damages can be awarded under Ohio law, there must be proof by clear and convincing evidence that the actions of the employer demonstrate malice, or aggravated or egregious fraud. R.C. § 2315.21. Malice is conduct that is characterized by hatred, ill will or the spirit of revenge, or the conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. Preston v. Murry, 32 Ohio St.3d 334 (1987).
Evidence of malice will also support an award of punitive damages under federal statutes authorizing punitive damages. However, under federal statutes such as Title VII, punitive damages can also be proven by showing that the defendant engaged in the discriminatory conduct with the knowledge that it might violate federal anti-discrimination law, and proof that the employer engaged in egregious or outrageous acts is not necessary. Kolstad v. American Dental Ass’n., 527 U.S. 526, 536-40 (1999); see, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 (limiting the award of punitive damages to situations when the employer is found to discriminate “with malice or with reckless indifference.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b). Other federal statutes permitting awards of punitive damages for discrimination cases include the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.